Leveraging Neighborhood-Scale Change for Policy and Program Reform in Buffalo, New York

This article discusses the work of the Healthy Communities Initiative in Buffalo, New York. The Healthy Communities Initiative is a community partnership to promote active living in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the two neighboring communities, Fruit Belt and Allentown.

The Healthy Communities Initiative received funding from Active Living by Design (ALbD) to promote physical activity and community cohesion between the three distinct regions. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Center is a major employer and economic hub in Buffalo and spearheaded the initiative to improve living on its campus and in the adjacent neighborhoods.

Key Findings:

  • Because changing the built environment is complex and requires interactions with local governments and agencies, one technique to improve the built environment was to integrate active living principles into existing planning and policies.
  • Building social capital with individuals and organizations in Allentown, Fruit Belt and the Medical Center was key to achieving the goals of the initiative.
  • One major challenge was the length of time required to create major physical environment improvements. While the initiative has received $14 million in federal grants to make street improvements, the money has not yet been put to use because of the lengthy process of planning and contracting.
  • Ensuring the sustainability of built environment improvements is vital in regions like Buffalo, which have limited financial resources to develop new active living programs and policies.
  • Creating built environment improvements requires significant time, resources and collaboration from a wide variety of players.

The Health Communities Initiative was able to accomplish a series of active living improvements in its target area. By taking a comprehensive, collaborative approach to planning programs, the initiative was able to achieve both short-term and long-term changes to improve active living.